What are the most common emotions at your workplace? Is your company’s emotional culture documented? Every organisation has an emotional culture, even if it isn’t clearly stated.

What’s Emotional Culture? Emotional Culture is defined as the shared affective values, norms, artefacts, and assumptions that govern which emotions people have and express at work and which ones they are better off suppressing.

Thankfully, most businesses recognise the value of having an emotional culture and taking steps to implement it.

According to research by HBR, emotional culture influences employee satisfaction, burnout, teamwork, and even hard measures such as financial performance and absenteeism.

It’s important to be clear about the difference between cognitive and emotional cultures. 

Cognitive culture is defined as the shared intellectual values, norms, artefacts, and assumptions that serve as a guide for the group to thrive. Cognitive culture sets the tone for how employees think and behave at work—for instance, how customer-focused, innovative, team-oriented, or competitive they are or should be.

Most of us refer to our cognitive culture as a company or organisational culture (read our article about organisational cultures here). While they are distinct, it is critical for any firm to pay attention to both and ensure they are in sync.

How to identify your emotional culture?

As we mentioned before, even if your firm doesn’t have an intentionally developed emotional culture, there is one.

emotional culture“Every organisation has an emotional culture, even if it’s one of suppression.” — Sigal Barsade.

Finding out what the most frequent emotions are among your team or organisation’s members is critical.

You can achieve this in a variety of ways:

Ask and observe your employees. A fantastic place to start is listening to your employees and noticing their non-verbal cues and signs. Here are some questions you can start with:

  • To what degree do other people in this organisation (or division or unit) display the following emotions?
  • Which emotions should or shouldn’t people express in this organisation?
  • Do they feel comfortable about sharing their emotions at work, or would they rather hold back?

You can also measure basic emotions because, according to research, we can have more than one emotional culture. 

Use Emotional Culture Surveys. These types of surveys measure experienced emotions, expected emotions and ideal or desirable levels of emotions. 

Collect data about people’s emotions on a daily basis. For example, before leaving, employees at Ubiquity Retirement + Savings press a button in the lobby to describe how they felt that day. 

Another example is, Bridgewater where employees can log any negative emotions they experience at work using a ‘pain button’ app on their iPads. They then have the opportunity for follow-up conversations with colleagues to address and resolve any negative emotions.    

There are also bracelets or apps that allow employees to communicate how they are feeling. 

These strategies can be challenging to use; it all relies on how you manage the data you collect. If you utilise the information against employees, you will no longer receive accurate information from them. The “positive” aspect is that it reveals a great deal about your emotional culture.

Find external help. You can use team activities, workshops, or learning programmes to find out how people are feeling and how to move forwards with your desired emotional culture. 

This is one of our areas of expertise; we work with companies facing some challenges and help them ensure that everyone in their team is working together. 

Get in touch with us and find out how we can help you. All our programmes are bespoke and tailored to your needs. 

Make use of games. This card deck created by riders&elephants includes questions for everyone in the organisation and worksheets to keep track of your findings and commitments.

How can you create and promote your emotional culture?

Now that you’ve discovered the most common emotions among your peers, you can move on to the next step. How can you create a positive emotional culture that benefits your company? 

Make sure you welcome emotions

emotional cultureThis is possibly the most crucial part because welcoming emotions into the workplace is the first step toward creating a healthy emotional culture.

Many organisations have spent years attempting to avoid this. Fortunately, things are changing, and we now understand the importance of allowing individuals to be themselves at work.

Despite this, we still have a long way to go. According to research, 54% of employees don’t feel comfortable showing their true emotions around senior leadership. 

You can also train people to manage their emotions the same way you would train them to learn a new skill. The better we are able to manage our emotions, the easier it will be to implement the emotional culture you need for your company.

Think about your particular company

What type of emotions and behaviours are you trying to promote? What type of company are you in? What’s your industry? 

You may need to promote different emotions, depending on your industry. Healthcare professionals, for example, require a higher level of compassion than workers in other fields. 

Vail Resorts is a wonderful example of this, with “have fun” as one of its values:

HAVE FUN: Fun is our product – create fun, enjoy your work and share the contagious spirit.

In the hospitality sector, this is a fantastic emotion to encourage, and everyone is on board. 

However, before making any decisions, it’s important to observe your organisation; it may surprise you.

At Cisco, for example, they identified that joy was one of the strongest drivers of employee satisfaction and commitment at the company—and more of it was needed to keep up engagement.

Align your emotional and organisational culture 

Creating an emotional culture is not about saying to people how they should feel. It’s about putting in place the structures, environments, and procedures to enable them to feel that way. 

Can you imagine, using Vail Resorts as an example, what would happen if, after advocating having fun, they penalised individuals for having fun while working? It would not only be illogical, but it would also have a detrimental consequence.

Lead by example

From top to bottom, something has to change. And the first step towards change is to take the initiative and demonstrate that you are willing to do your part.

You can’t promote a culture of joy and then show up to work angry every day. Keep in mind also that emotions, especially negative ones, are highly contagious. (Read our article)

To use the same example, Rob Kats, Vail’s former CEO, took part in the ice bucket challenge, and many others in the company followed suit. They also share some fun moments on a daily basis, encouraging these emotions and behaviours.  

Find the right balance 

As previously said, it is the responsibility of the leader to lead by example. And there’s something to be said for “faking it till you make it,” or, in this case, “faking it until you feel it.”

We can model our emotions to some extent. If we smile even when we don’t feel like it, for example, we begin to feel a little happier. Acting out the feelings you want to foster is a good place to start.

On the other hand, you must use caution and avoid overdoing it. If you do, it can end up being overwhelming, leading to high levels of emotional labour, stress, and exhaustion. 

It can also convey a sense of deception. People can see right through our acts, and if they see we’re constantly faking our emotions, we’ll come across as unauthentic.

Pay attention to small details

If you want to promote fun, for example, use photographs of individuals laughing or team activities that encourage these feelings. Even having kleenex in common areas communicates that expressing emotions is acceptable.

Give time

Nothing changes from one day to the next, and when some emotions and behaviours are really integrated into your organisation, it can take time to change them. So, give yourself enough time to create these changes. You can implement recognition programmes to reinforce the emotions you aim to bring forward. 

The Optimist View…

Talking about expressing our emotions at work can seem scary or even unprofessional or unproductive. However, humans are emotional and constantly suppressing these emotions will negatively impact your team or organisation. 

The leaders of today and tomorrow need to be comfortable dealing with their own and other emotions. Whether you like it or not, emotions are part of us. So you can refuse to bring them to the surface and pay the consequences. Or you can openly talk about them and create an emotional culture that enables everyone in your organisation to flourish. 

At Optimist Performance, we help companies on the journey of bringing up their emotions and using them towards a common goal. 

Get in touch with us today and find out how we can help you.